The European Union will attempt this Wednesday to revive the “Eastern Partnership” that it established in 2009 with Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. These five former Soviet republics are confronted with attempts to destabilize Russia and undermined by divisions.
A little more than ten years after its creation, this partnership supposed to promote good economic and political understanding between the EU and its eastern neighbors is failing.
There is no shortage of reasons for concern: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko withdrew his country from the agreement in June 2021, Armenia and Azerbaijan are in conflict, Georgia is going through a political crisis and Ukraine fears Russian military intervention. As for Moldova, it suffers from the increase in Russian gas prices and Moscow’s strong support for the breakaway region of Transnistria.
Discussions began in Brussels on Tuesday evening. The President of the European Council Charles Michel received the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan in an attempt to “calm the tensions” which were still strong after the war for the control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region which left 6,500 dead in fall 2020.
Crisis in Ukraine
But the main concern of Europeans is the renewed tensions on the Ukrainian border, where the presence of Russian troops raises fears of a new outbreak of the conflict that erupted in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea by Russia. The European Union also denounces the instrumentalization of gas prices or the influx of migrants to the EU organized by the Belarusian regime supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In reaction, the Europeans brandish the threat of sanctions even though many have already been in force since 2014.
Denouncing Western “provocations” in the periphery of his country, Vladimir Poutine intends to neutralize the former Soviet republics by opposing their membership in NATO and the European Union.
No EU memberships
If the Europeans reject this right of veto, no one in Brussels is talking about the integration of Ukraine and Georgia into the EU. “Membership concerns the countries of the Western Balkans, not the group of countries of the Eastern Partnership”, recalled the spokesperson for the head of European diplomacy Peter Stano.
European diplomacy says it is “aware[e] aspirations of these countries ”to join the EU but prefers to work on the basis of the economic and political agreements signed in 2014 with Kiev, Tbilisi and Chisinau.
The Europeans put on the table their investment plan launched in July “of 2.3 billion euros and able to mobilize 17 billion euros of public and private investment”. Its distribution will, however, depend on the reforms undertaken and the viability of the projects presented, the EU warned.
Despite the efforts made, disappointment is winning over the countries of the Eastern Partnership, for which declarations of support are not followed by action. The Ukrainian president, for example, on Tuesday accused Germany of preventing him from acquiring defensive weapons to protect its border against Russia
“In some capitals, it is still fear that dominates,” lamented Volodymyr Zelensky. The EU, which does not want to give Russia an excuse to take action, assumes that it wants to take the time. “We are ready to react, but we do not want to contribute to deteriorating the situation”, defended Tuesday the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell.
The Ukrainian president will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz before the opening of the summit to try to iron out any misunderstandings.